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7 ways to cut plastic and help birds

May 7, 2021
On 8th May 2021 people from around the world will celebrate World Migratory Bird Day.  All of these birds, as well as non-migratory species are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and plastic pollution. According to estimates by WWF, around 1 million seabirds are fatally injured every year as a result of digesting or becoming entangled in plastic. Floating pieces of plastic debris can easily be mistaken for food, abandoned fishing nets cause entanglement and items such as plastic rings from around bottle tops can get stuck around the birds beaks preventing them from eating and drinking. 80-90% of marine plastic pollution originates on land.  Even when plastic products are disposed of responsibly it is important to remember that many are lightweight and can easily be blown out of bins, out of waste collection vehicles and out of waste facilities, ending up in natural environments and potentially causing harm.

What can hospitality businesses do to prevent plastic pollution that creates life-threatening situations for seabirds?


The most obvious solution is to avoid as many unnecessary single-use plastic products as you possibly can.  If you haven’t already done so, undertake a self-assessment to identify where single-use plastic products are used in your business and ask yourself if they are truly necessary?  Up to 15% of single-use products consumed by hotels are often used out of habit, simply changing processes and procedures can help you to eliminate thousands of individual items and prevent them from becoming litter. 


Dispose of waste responsibly.  Make it easy for staff and guests to separate and dispose of waste quickly and easily.  Ensure that bins have lids (especially if they are situated in windy areas) and empty them regularly.  Ensure the waste collection contractors that you work with operate closed vehicles so that litter is not blown into natural environments on its way to the waste management facility. 


Avoid 6-pack style plastic rings.  If you must purchase canned drinks that are held together in this way, encourage staff and guests to cut them up after use so that they don’t cause danger of entanglement and to dispose of them in a lidded bin.  Even better, dispose of them at a ring carrier recycling programme drop off point, and if there isn’t one close to you, consider becoming a drop off point yourself.   Find suppliers that offer alternatives to plastic 6-pack rings.  


Partner with specialist collectors for difficult to recycle plastics.  Products like disposable gloves, ballpoint pens and plastic bread bags are generally not recycled because there is no supporting infrastructure to do so.  This gap is being filled by private sector companies and Terracycle is a great example of this, with collection and drop off points around the UK for a wide variety of difficult to recycle products.  Working in this way will require staff training and ongoing monitoring and evaluation, you might even consider involving customers and guests by providing clear instructions about what to do with any difficult to dispose of waste.      


Create demand for recyclable products.  Plastic is not necessarily a bad material, it is the way that we use and dispose of it that causes so many problems.  Keeping plastic materials in the economy and out of the environment provides incentives for innovation in more circular solutions.  For example, fishing net recycling schemes that encourage fishing vessels to bring back nets rather than discard them at sea.  Making a point of procuring products made from fishing nets or other plastic materials attributes a value to them that wasn’t there before, and is of course a great story for your business.  


Provide plenty of opportunities for guests to responsibly dispose of cigarette butts.  According to Keep Britain Tidy:

  • 52% of smokers who smoke everyday thought putting a cigarette down the drain was acceptable.
  • 39% of smokers, equivalent to 3.6million in the UK, admitted to throwing a cigarette butt down a drain within the past month.
  • 11% of smokers do not consider cigarette butts to be litter.



Prioritise reusable PPE where regulations allow.  It was inevitable that single-use PPE would become litter, as with other single-use plastic products it is lightweight and can easily blow away even if it is responsibly disposed of.  Aside from the concerns around continued contamination, PPE is also dangerous to seabirds and animals.  Unless single-use PPE is required by legislation avoid it, according to  the World Health Organisation, handwashing is a much better way to protect against COVID-19 than using single-use gloves.  If you must use single-use PPE, take every possible step to dispose of it responsibly, cut the straps from masks (single-use and reusable) to prevent seabirds and marine mammals from becoming entangled. 

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Jo Hendrickx
Jo Hendrickx
Jo is a sustainability professional living in Gran Canaria with over 20 years of experience in the global tourism industry. She has worked extensively with hotels and accommodation providers around the world since 2001 helping managers to navigate the health, safety, quality and sustainability expectations of tour operators. Increasingly concerned with the impacts of unnecessary plastics, Jo was motivated to create Travel Without Plastic to support those hotels that want to make a difference.
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